Looking Ahead

Lawmakers’ focus on budget issues this session has resulted in little action on environmental issues. However, that is likely to change once the Legislature finalizes the 2008 budget. Several environment-related bills are awaiting debate, including the following:

Cleanup Standards

Debate is expected later this year on streamlining the process required to remediate contaminated property. A major point of contention centers on the criteria used to determine when a cleanup is complete. Developers argue that once they have met DEQ requirements they should be free of future liability; the agency wants to retain the authority to require further cleanup if conditions change or additional information is revealed.

Regulating Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations

The regulation of farms where livestock and poultry are confined in buildings has become a contentious issue. Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations are currently regulated under the Clean Water Act because of potential discharges to waterways. The Michigan Farm Bureau and its allies are advocating the adoption of a permitting system based on compliance with "best management practices." A five-year pilot project testing such a system ends in December, and a final report on its efficacy will be issued. Environmental groups contend that the pollution discharge permits are still necessary to protect water quality.

Surcharge on Solid Waste

House Bills 4221 and 4222 would impose a surcharge of $7.50 per ton for solid waste deposited in Michigan landfills. The resulting revenue would fund recycling and litter education programs. Proponents argue that Michigan has a lower recycling rate than surrounding states and that the surcharge would promote recycling while deterring the importation of Canadian waste. Opponents contend that the surcharge would be an illegal tax. Opponents also say this "tax" would hurt Michigan’s economy by driving up trash disposal costs and it would not reduce shipments of Canadian trash because existing contracts with landfills are still in force.

Regulatory Fee Increase

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is seeking to increase regulatory fees by a total of nearly $19.6 million, including the costs of permits for air emissions, wetlands, dam safety, floodplains, inland lakes and streams and groundwater discharge. The agency also wants to impose higher fees for pollution prevention, hazardous waste disposal, solid waste, on-site sewage and mineral wells. The existing fees generate $22.6 million annually. If approved, the fees would total $42.2 million — an increase of 87 percent. The agency claims higher fees are necessary to make up for less federal and state funding of regulatory programs. However, the regulated community will likely resist the higher fees given the economic challenges facing Michigan businesses. More information can be found at MichiganVotes; see Senate Bill 406.

Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement

State Sen. Patricia Birkholz (R-Saugatuck Township) has introduced legislation that would implement the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement in Michigan. In order for the agreement to be binding, all Great Lakes states must pass implementing legislation. To date, only Minnesota has passed such a statue. The agreement requires, in part, state regulation of new or increased water withdrawals within five years of ratification. The agreement prohibits out-of-basin withdrawals, but exempts communities that straddle the basin. More information can be found at MichiganVotes; see House Bill 4336, House Bill 4343 and Senate Bill 212.